25 February 2010
On 25 February 2010 eight ISM volunteers gathered at the Hebron Municipality building alongside Hebron residents, Israeli activists and other international volunteer groups. Television crews were already interviewing local organizers and political leaders; Israeli activists scrambled to finish the last of their demonstration placards with phrases in Hebrew saying “Open Shuhada Street,” “There is No Holiness in an Occupied City,” and “Ibrahim’s Mosque is a Bi-national holy Site;” Shebab (young Palestinian boys) danced a few steps of dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance, to a popular Arabic song playing from a cell phone projected through a megaphone.
At 2pm, multiple buses appeared in the parking lot below the municipality and both international and Israeli activists were instructed towards a small white bus at the far end. Sitting three to a seat and lining the aisles, we began our half hour, winding and disorienting drive towards the start of the demonstration site. We disembarked from the bus and found shelter from the rain under the covered play area of a school. From the ledge we could see Ibrahim’s Mosque and Israeli settlements.
At 2:30pm protest placards and flags were held high and we began our decent towards the Shuhada Street checkpoint. After just a few minutes, about 150 meters from the Shuhada Street checkpoint, interactions with the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) began. Sound bombs and then tear gas canisters were rolled into the nonviolent crowd. As media began donning their gas masks and protective helmets, Israeli activists began linking arms to block the IOF’s attempt to force the crowd to retreat. Sound bombs, Arabic and English chants, negotiations with IOF in Hebrew and the call to prayer filled the air.
Forward, retreat, forward further, retreat more. This went on until the line of nonviolent demonstrators was within 10 meters of the Shuhada Street checkpoint. The line was held by Palestinians, internationals and Israelis alike for over half an hour. With face to face contact with the soldiers, we were able to dissuade them from detonating sound bombs into the nonviolent crowd. As the crowd grew bigger and the chain of protestors grew stronger, IOF made the unilateral decision to use violence against the nonviolent demonstration. Without a single rock from the demonstrators, both IOF and Israeli police rushed the crowd, shooting tear gas canisters and throwing sound bombs. The nonviolent crowd of about 100 retreated from the attack by either running back uphill or seeking shelter in a nearby cemetery.
IOF entered the cemetery, panning the overwhelmingly child crowd with their M-16 assault rifles. International activists helped accompany children through the cemetery to safety and repeatedly reminded soldiers that the people they were pointing at were children who were not acting with violence.
The Popular Committee called an end to the demonstration at 5pm and directed everyone back to the buses. Wet, cold, tired, and eyes burning, internationals, Israelis and Palestinians filled back onto large chartered bus going back to the municipality. Shuhada Street remains closed but friendships between Hebronites, Israeli and international activists have been opened and the sentiments of resistance are shared by all.
On Sunday 21 February, Israeli President Netanyahu announced the Tomb of the Patriarchs, also known as the Ibrahim Mosque, as a protected Jewish holy site. This is the 4th holiest Islamic site in the world and has ignited protests from Palestinians. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said that this could insight a “religious war”.
The 25 February 2010 protest falls on the 16th anniversary of the Goldstein Massacre.
In 1994, after the Goldstein Massacre where a Jewish gunman shot at least 29 Palestinians worshiping at the Tomb of the Patriarchs Mosque, Shuhada Street was closed to Palestinians. The Israeli military stated that it was closed in fear of retaliation from Palestinians.
After a series of openings and closings the street is now closed to all Palestinians except residents with permits and open to Jewish settlers. Palestinians fear that while permits have been issued to residents that when those expire future residents and subsequent generations will not be issued permits.
Previous to the closing Shuhada Street was a commercial center with many Palestinian shops.
Frequently Asked Questions:
The settlers say they only have 3% of Hebron. They say they’re not allowed to go to H1 or most of H2. Given that they are restricted from the vast majority of the city, why shouldn’t Palestinians be restricted from the tiny portion of H2 that the settlers claim?
Hebron is a city deep inside the Palestinian territories. Israeli settlements in any of these territories are illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The issue is not that the settlers have only 3% of the city, but rather that they are controlling part of an occupied city.
H1, an area which consists of about 80% of Hebron, is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. H2, the remaining 20%, is controlled by Israel. Israeli settlers, who make up less than 1% of the population of Hebron, control 20% of the city, which is not only incredibly disproportionate but also illegal.
In order to allow the settlers to live in a small part of H2, the Israeli army exerts control over a much larger proportion of the city in order to secure a buffer zone for the settlement. While the settlers themselves do not travel around most of H2, the Israeli military does patrol the entirety of H2, thereby placing restrictions on Palestinian movement throughout this part of Hebron. If Israeli settlers were allowed to walk in all of H2, the Israeli military would likely control an even larger percentage of the city in order to keep them safe.
Although H2 is a relatively small portion of the city, it is Hebron’s true city centre where the industrial and commercial zones, as well as the most important landmarks, are located. H2 is an important passageway between the northern and southern parts of the city. Therefore, restricting movement in H2 significantly affects the freedom of movement of all residents of Hebron.
The Israeli military says that Palestinians are allowed to walk anywhere other than Shuhada Street. Is it really such an inconvenience to have one street closed to pedestrians?
It is not for the Israeli military to decide whether it is convenient or inconvenient for the Palestinians, yet this attitude of entitlement and legitimacy is the by-product of prolonged foreign occupation of a local population. The Palestinian residents of Hebron are not considered or consulted regarding whether or not the closure of their streets is in their security interest. Rather, the Israeli army makes decisions on their behalf and thus dictates the way Palestinians are allowed to live in their city. Shuhada Street is Hebron’s main street; traveling on it and crossing over it are essential to vibrant life and commerce in the area.
Wasn’t Shuhada Street closed as a response to terrorism?
No. Shuhada Street was initially closed to Palestinian shops and vehicular traffic in 1994 after the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 and injured 150 Palestinians when he opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) during prayers. The army cited fear of Palestinian revenge attacks as its rationale for closing the street. This main artery of the street and the former sight of the market place was reopened to traffic (but not commerce) in 1997 in accordance with the Hebron Protocol. In 2000, Shuhada Street was closed completely to traffic and partially to pedestrians. The street was effectively “sterilized” in 2002 by closing it off to all forms of all Palestinian movement.